Monday, 17 July 2006

The Lake House (2006)

I promise we'll run far away from public transport. No buses, no boats, no planes!

More than 10 years ago and half-forgotten by now, there was a series of illustrated books that almost everyone pretended they had read or displayed in their bookshelves. The Lake House reminds me strongly of the Griffin and Sabine trilogy, then Sleepless in Seattle, and finally Frequency. In other words, this movie features a couple who write regular letters to each other, gradually fall in love with each other, and repeatedly try – and fail – to meet each other. The twist is this: due to some glitch in the US Postal Service, Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) and Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) are communicating two years apart. He’s in 2004 and she’s in 2006.

Unlike Back to the Future 2, the possibility of getting filthy rich due to such temporal discrepancies is never exploited. At no point in The Lake House does Alex ask Kate "who won the monthly derby races in 2004 and 2005?" No does Kate offer Alex useful advice such as "Buy as many Google stocks as you can afford!" If they did this, I’m sure Dennis Hopper would pop up as the villain and make himself incredibly rich without hijacking a bus.

Keeping in mind this is a romantic movie, we are treated to a filmic version of the epistolary novel. In a succession of letters, Kate and Alex move from bewilderment, amused disbelief, confusion, acceptance of their situation, become pen pals, and finally fall in love with each other. I mention the epistolary novel not because I wanted to make an obscure literary reference, but precisely because in pen pals Kate and Alex, we get a chance to watch characters mature in spirit and develop a relationship and identification with each other, even when they are miles (and years) apart.

Singaporean moviegoers will be familiar with the basic setup of The Lake House; we are told this is a remake of Korean film Il Mare, from 2000. Now, the very phrase Hollywood remake tends to send chills down the spines of movie lovers, for the simple reason that these tend to be uncreative scene-for-scene clones of the original foreign film. The urban legend is these remakes are necessary because American audiences aren’t used to foreign language films, and Hollywood has no new ideas anyway. Recent examples of disappointing remakes would be La Femme Nikita/Point of No Return and Vanilla Sky/Abre Los Ojos.

It’s a pleasant surprise then, that The Lake House is actually superior to Il Mare. It’s simply not a remake, but a very loose adaptation of the original movie. The script by Pulitzer and Tony Prize winning playwright David Auburn fleshes out the personalities of the two main characters. In the Korean original, the main characters were just given cool-sounding professions (the male lead is an architecture student, the female an anime voice actor) that had absolutely no impact on the plot at all. As an architect, what does Alex think of the house on the lake? You wouldn’t know in the Korean original, but here, Keanu Reeves gives the most lucid, profound, and non-giggle inducing speech in his acting career so far. What exactly was the nature of the estrangement between Alex and his father? Again, details are sorely lacking in the original, but here it turns out Wyler pere is an even more monstrous Le Corbusier. Let’s just say that Keanu Reeves has lingering issues with the Architect, and their troubled relationship add to the multilayered depths of The Lake House.

The entire courtship between Alex and Kate have been rewritten to showcase the beauty of Chicago architecture and the unique quality of the light in the city, as well as tighten the plot and eliminate the cheesy and clichéd dialogue from the original. Cinematically, it’s pure heaven watching the duo in The Lake House appear in split screens and dual-exposure scenes, with their missed chances and misrecognitions. Never has a movie referenced and actually used Jane Austen’s Persuasion as a thematic template to such great effect.

While David Auburn’s script sparkles with an undeniable romantic impulse, veteran Argentinean director Alejandro Agresti films this movie like a love note to Chicago, and almost made me vividly experience and then effortlessly fall in love with the city. Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock finally reunite in this movie, and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the onscreen chemistry we saw in Speed is tangible and real. The supporting cast, especially Christopher Plummer and Willeke van Ammelrooy, put in such soul in their performances that they will be just as remembered as the characters of Alex and Kate.

Oh yes, since this is a movie about time-travel, let me state that the logical paradoxes are never resolved, and the plot will seem illogical by the final scene. This is something audiences have to accept, I’m afraid. Like Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Agresti and Auburn are far more interested in the emotional intensity and verisimilitude of the story than with sci-fi mechanics. In the end, though, I was sufficiently charmed by the movie to forgive the bad science.

First published at incinemas on 27 July 2006

No comments: